By Frank Conerton
I have been writing about the different components or levels that join together to form a human being. One example of these levels is the three levels of the brain: brain stem, mid-brain and neo-cortex. The brain stem, referred to as the reptile brain, is the oldest part. The midbrain is associated with mammalian development. The forebrain is the neo-cortex and gives us human awareness.
Another example could be the Ancient Wisdom teaching that the physical world is made up of material, emotional (astral) and mental levels. We could also consider the chakras as different levels of our being. My point is that we are a collection of levels and need to consider how these levels interact in order to know more about ourselves. Rather than an esoteric discussion, though, this has very real consequences in our lives.
In our society there is an obesity epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of people will die each year in America because of the diseases associated with obesity. Millions will suffer debilitating diseases all related to obesity. Although the general thinking is that we are simply eating too much and doing too little, others say this epidemic is a direct result of eating a diet of highly processed food. Until a hundred years or so ago, pretty much all food grew in nature. Our bodies evolved dealing with this natural food. Our senses tell us if a food is good, ripe, calorie dense, or spoiled. In current times, much of our food has been processed in factories. As this food becomes more highly processed, taste and calorie density are greatly intensified while fiber and nutrition are greatly reduced, fooling our senses that tell us to stop eating and setting the stage for the obesity epidemic.
According to Doug Lisle Ph.D., who studies behavior, all animal behavior can be attributed to a motivational triad of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and conserving energy. This motivational triad also applies to our body. His book, “The Pleasure Trap” is the source of much of the information in this article.
In a documentary, Dr. Lisle states the he knew that McDonalds’ restaurants would be a great success because they hit all three motivations. The food is fast, easy and high calorie content. In his book, Dr. Lisle describes that our bodies have natural sensors that tell us when we have enough food, but these only work with natural foods. Modern processed foods fool our natural food regulation system which leads to obesity.
We mammals have an automatic response which triggers a flood of pleasure and a desire for immediate repetition. In one experiment, electrodes were placed in mice brains which stimulated the pleasure center in their brain. Whenever the pleasure center was stimulated, the mice immediately repeated whatever they were doing just before the stimulation. If they were scratching their left ear with their left hind foot, they started scratching their ear like crazy to get another pleasure surge. Of course if the pleasure center was stimulated when they were eating, they ate furiously trying to get another jolt of pleasure. Remember the potato chip commercial that stated “Bet you can’t eat just one”?
You might think “but we are human, we operate by free will, not instinct.” But consider how often we operate on autopilot! While doing repetitive things we often think about something else, opening the doorway to midbrain motivation. When we are eating highly processed food-like-substances unconsciously, we become driven by the greatly enhanced taste which gives our pleasure center a jolt and stimulates more eating to get more of that pleasure. This is coupled with the reduced fiber and nutrition which confuses our body’s natural sensors that tell us that we have had enough. It is a recipe for overeating. This produces what Dr. Lisle calls the pleasure trap which results with our obesity epidemic.
A very powerful tool to overcome this pleasure trap is our human consciousness based in the neo-cortex. This level of consciousness is not subject to the instinctual motivational triad. Our human consciousness does operate on free will. By raising our awareness into human consciousness, we can question if this rich, sweet tasting thing is good to eat even though the midbrain is telling us to eat as much as possible. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in a calorie scarce environment has resulted in an automatic desire to eat calorie dense food. Only our consciousness in the neo-cortex can say that this food like substance is too rich and therefore harmful to my health. Only our human consciousness can control the motivation. We can define “food” as things that grew in nature. We can decide that highly processed food-like-substances that come from factories are harmful as a steady diet.
One of the great health issues of our time can be helped by understanding that the midbrain contains the motivation to eat as much calorie dense food as possible. Only our human awareness can tell us that even although this substance tastes wonderful and is full of calories, we know that a steady diet of highly processed substances will harm our health. The relationship between the midbrain motivational triad and the human awareness operating on free will is a very important key.